5 Ideas to Organize Your Small (Or Tiny) Closet

Small closet organization
Lenora Gim/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There are a lot of closet organizing tips out there, but if you have a small closet, you probably read them and scoff.

A shoe rack in my closet?  Maybe, if I take out all the clothes.

Multiple shelves and racks at different heights? Clearly these people never lived in an apartment!

A new trend on Pinterest and Instagram is to devote a space in your closet to “outfit inspiration,” illustrated with a photo of mood boards hanging above some flowers in a pot.

That's a great idea, but if you can barely get your pants in your closet, let alone artwork, it's not a practical tip.

If you're working with a small closet, you need to be logical, savvy, and creative when organizing your clothing, accessories, and shoes into a small space.

1. Get Back to Basics

In a small closet there is less room (and sometimes no room) for additional organizers like drawers and boxes, so you need to work at maximizing closet storage space. You might be able to add some hooks, but mostly you’ll be dealing with simply trying to cram your clothes into the space. This demands your clothes themselves be as organized as you can get them.

Luckily, that’s pretty simple to achieve. First, downsize. Your closet cannot fit with clothes you’re never going to wear again. Second, hang everything on matching hangers facing the same direction. Third, arrange clothes so that skirts, blouses, and so on are grouped, and that only currently worn items are front and center.

2. Optimize the Shape of Your Particular Closet

All small closets are not alike. You may have a small, deep closet or a small, shallow closet. Typically, in a deep closet, you will only have enough space to hang your clothing for the current season. But you'll have room at the back of the closet to stash off-season clothes in bags at the back of the closet floor.

In a shallow closet, you won't have room to store any bulky items, but can hang all of your clothes up and simply push the off-season pieces to one side.

And don’t forget to work with your shape, too. If you're tall or have a step ladder, think about adding a second shelf or some stacked-up cubbies.

3. Seek Out Minimal Organizers

If you want hooks to maximize storage space, or shelf dividers for your closet, look for the flattest, smallest models you can find. You don’t want your precious space taken up with organizing products. Hooks like this cedar belt keeper, for belts, or this one, which slides over a closet door, can accommodate a lot of things without taking up too much room themselves. You might also try an over-the-door mesh shoe rack

4. Prioritize

Once your small closet is full of clothes, you’ll probably have just a bit of room left for one or two other types of storage. Maybe you can get your shoes in, but you’ll probably not be able to fit them plus your bags and coats and a large hamper. So some things are going to have to go outside of your closet. Stick to duffel and overnight bags on the floor of your closet, where no one has to see them, and neatly line up shoes - which are at least designed to be aesthetically pleasing - elsewhere in your home.

Other non-closet storage options include a coat tree, the backs of other doors, and under-the-bed boxes.

Basically, a small closet forces you to be creative. If you can’t install a beautiful wide closet shelf just for purses, you might be inspired to leave your more interesting purses out as unexpected decorations.

5. Use Portable Built Ins

You may just have to create your own storage space.  A small closet (especially one in a rental) will probably not be compatible with DIY cabinets or custom doors with hidden shelves. Going all the way in the other direction, towards light and easily moveable storage boxes and bins, can be a much more versatile - not to mention affordable - way to organize a small closet. An open canvas bin can go on a shelf, on the floor, or on any surface in your closet.

Best of all, they can be switched around in seconds. Say you have a lot of sweaters taking up your single shelf, and then you give half of them away.

That newly opened space can accommodate some bins of socks you’d placed on the floor, and now some shoes (or anything else) can take their place.